The long lament of SBC leaders concerns declining baptisms. The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth was intensified last June when the lowest number of baptisms was reported since 1946, when Georgia’s Louie Newton was SBC president. The drop was called a “freefall.” Thom Ranier, LifeWay head said that “evangelism and discipleship are waining” in the SBC. Frank Page said that we should all “lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor, and our increasingly irrelevant programs.”
Indeed. We are accustomed to the June swoon of SBC leaders when the baptism figures are released.
So, we should all be pleased to have J. D. Greear as a nominee for SBC president, since his church has baptized 4,326 over the past six years, an average of 721 per year. Shouldn’t we?
Apparently not, since anti-Greear voices have found creative ways to diminish the success of The Summit in reaching people for Christ and seeing that they are baptized.
The first line of complaint is that Greear’s church is a multi-site mega-church but dividing the baptism totals up among the various church sites or even generating a ratio of baptisms to membership still shows The Summit as far above the SBC average.
So, the approach is to say that Greear has a soteriological problem. This, of course, flows from the anti-Calvinist zealots who are then faced with the problem of someone they label a Calvinist who does stellar and exemplary work in the area of evangelism. Thus, the talking point for the anti-Greear crowd is that his evangelism is fine but his soteriology is flawed.
Consider this hacker and plodder to be puzzled as to how one can have flawed soteriology and yet have authentic evangelism at the same time. Are those baptized not saved? Did they receive a false Gospel? Is an equivalience being made between The Summit’s evangelism and that of the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses where there are converts and baptisms but they aren’t saved?
Let’s be honest, though, and acknowledge that we clearly have soteriological heresy in the SBC. That heresy is an old one and has been labeled “functional universalism.” It abounds. It is the unspoken but clearly practiced belief that somehow, some way, everyone will end up in heaven with Jesus.
I wish Adrian Rogers, the most outstanding SBCer in the last half of the 20th century, was still around. He’s not but one can usually find a key quote on most problems facing the SBC. How about this (and I may be slightly paraphrasing it):
“In doctrine you can be just as straight as a gunbarrel and just as empty.”
The baptisteries of a good portion of the 47,272 SBC churches will be empty as well this year.
Here is an expression of J. D. Greer’s soteriology, in his own words:
For the record, I believe Jesus died for all people, that every person can and should be called to repent and believe, and that you haven’t fully preached the gospel if you haven’t called for that response. #GospelAboveAll
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 6, 2018
I often come back to the prophet Isaiah’s words: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa 59:1). In other words, the hesitation is not in God; it’s in us. God has not changed. He still desires to extend his salvation to the ends of the earth, he still has the power to do it, and he still plans to use us. The question is, are we prepared for him to move? How We Can Reverse Our Downward Trend of Baptisms
Realistically, the office of SBC president has little to do with baptisms. All SBC presidents are in favor of increased evangelism and baptisms and all of the SBC presidents in my memory pastored churches with outstanding records in this area.
There is soteriological heresy afoot in the Grand Old SBC. Thousands of SBC pastors are guilty of it. Some of these are Calvinists. Some of them are Traditionalists.
J. D. Greear is not one of them.